The season for enlightened truants

By

It's a good thing most people choose to take vacations in the summer. They tend to take them then anyway, if you get our drift. For a brief couple of months, even New Englanders can understand the custom of the siesta, though generally they're too embarrassed to participate.

There's just a different tempo in the air - something not to be explained by a simple measurement of temperature.

Summer air seems to have a density, a texture that slows down everything, even the human voice. It's very hard to bark a command through the air of June, July, and August. And if you do, how, in all that soft oxygen and nitrogen, can the troops get crackingm?

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No matter what the chemists say, summer air must have an extra ingredient. It holds fragrances like a sponge and colors like a blotter. It hangs sounds in suspense and floats them like lily pads on a pond.

Summer air enhances everything it touches. A neighbor's hamburgers come wafting across the driveway like filet mignon. With windows wide open, you eat two meals for the calories of one.

The most dismal park concert takes on charm, as if summer air could soften even the ragged edges of cacophony and sweeten the sour notes - provided they are not too shamelessly loud.

When in doubt, summer air favors the subtle. The hum and buzz of insects come through just fine. Even the birds tone down their warbling between June and September, or so it sounds.

On the other hand, noise - anything harsh or shrill or abrupt - rends and violates summer air.

The human voice is raised in anger in all seasons; ''hot and bothered'' we call it in the summer. But in the summer, when ''peace comes dropping slow'' (as William Butler Yeats put it), anger seems like an unnatural act.

In winter the air is thin - ideal for transmitting sounds like the crackle of ice under boots.

In summer the characteristic sound is the near-silence of bare feet shuffling through beach sand.

In winter the air nips a person into discipline, logic, achievement. But what would we do if we were kept on the tingly alert all year around? We could become a menace to ourselves.

Summer air does not exactly immobilize us, but a little of the manic speed goes out of daily life. For a couple of months, we live on a slower planet.

Summer is a mood - a space cleared.

We need this amnesty of a plotless ''now'': a time when we feel and be rather than think and do.

Summer stillness is like a rest in a score - providing its own kind of music.

Out of this disengagement comes a different and perhaps better sense of centering.

Our life stops looking to us like a personnel resume or a college reunion report.

Resting, waiting - all the postures that seem passive - can finally bring an understanding, a sense of grace that never comes from the most devoted and intense activity.

What does summer have to reveal? No contemporary has said it much better than the Greek poet George Seferis: Here the running waters, here the garden, here the bees sounding in the branches and buzzing in a child's ear, and there the sun! and the birds of paradise - a huge sun greater than the light.

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